Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bongs and Slang

Indians, being repressed, are not very forthcoming about the wonderful repertoire of slang that exists in our different languages. A punjabi always reminds you that you slept with your mother and that your sister probably has a cock, a bong can tell you with some conviction that you (even if you are a virgin still) have had sex with a fool umpteen times, and Malayalis generally confuse people with mongrels. By now you probably have an idea that we are dealing with creativity at its best. However, the middle class (which forms the majority of the urban Indian populace) would have none of it. They learn everything at school, practice the choicest of slangs with their classmates, but pretend to know nothing when it comes to mixing with people of other age groups. For example, a group of 14 year old boys, despite holding masters degrees in slang, would use normal language when they meet 20 year old seniors or 40 year old dads, who all, in their respective groups, are comfortable using this different lingo altogether.

Slang has its benefits. It makes expression easier and less convoluted. A Bengali word like Baal (which is akin to "balls" and literally means pubic hair) can be used to express anything from chagrin to disgust to disagreement.
"The Democrats will win."

You can also choose to use it generously whenever you find yourself cornered in an argument. It is very effective against logical argument of any kind. It can make a universal truth sound like a blatant lie.

"The sun will rise in the east."

And you don't have a good comeback.

I heard of one Bengali who got himself in trouble when he tried using this in Punjab. He said "baal" to mean "balls I will go with you," but the Punjabi thought it was the English word ball (which is pronounced in Punjab as baal) and took offence thinking he meant "balls." Although the essence was the same and the effect would have been similar if the Punjabi guy knew what baal really meant, we are dealing with serious semantics here.

However, slang not being included in popular literature means that in a language like Bengali, to write about a fictional account of two people fornicating, you have to resort to very archaic words from a dictionary by the famous AT Dev. I don't know much about him, but he has been immortalized in the famous rhyme about the Bengali dick. There are no proper, popular, acceptable terms for the various body parts that are involved in a foreplay or the real act. AT Dev, I believe, borrowed everything from the famous poet Kalidasa of the sixth century*.

The current Bengali langauge available for literature, with its nitombo for the butt and ston (with a soft t like in Perestroika) for breasts, is way too Victorian for authors to try writing about sex. But has it deterred them? No way. If you read the recent novels that are being written, you would wonder whether any Bengali character has not had an affair outside her/his primary relation. The latest literature, sometimes set in the US (too many Bongs there, I hear), sometimes in the posh localities of Calcutta, are all about gigolos and married women hankering for sex outside their marriages (primarily the reason why I want to make an investigative trip to Calcutta next gather empirical evidence for/against all that is being written). I wonder why the usual everyday slang, despite being used every day by everybody in his/her comfort zone, is not being accepted in the language used for literature.

As I write this, my six year old son turns in his sleep and swears "saala," making me cringe. I can't blame him. He doesn't use it as a swear word. He has picked it up from Pappu can't dance saala. Saala, for the uninitiated and the Americans who read this, means "I'll do your sister."
It is perhaps the only term that has been rendered harmless by overuse. It has been used in popular songs, and you can see Bollywood heroes keep saying "abbe saale" all through any Hindi movie. It has almost become synonymous with the word dude. When I was growing up, saala was a taboo term. Today my son can sing a song with saala in it and I pretend not to get alarmed.

But there are so many rich, creative, beautiful slang terms out there for us to accept and make our own. The day we will be able to make slangs part of our everyday, generic vocabulary, we will be able to revolutionize our languages. Literature in native Indian languages will become much easier to translate. But, if no one heeds my advice, we will be drowned in the onslaught of the "fuck yous" that have invaded the lingo of our generation now like a horde of Huns. Every Indian boy or girl can nonchalantly say "he is so full of shit" about their teacher or use "fuck you" instead of a nice and crisper "baal" to express disagreement.

Stop our languages from this invasion. Spread the swear word. Call your neighbor a bansod instead of the oh-so-boring "good morning, how is your Earl Grey tea this morning, dear sir?"
You will feel liberated. Try it alone in front of the mirror first and then go out boldly to face the other world. Imagine screaming "bokacHHoda" with your dad and raising your fists up in the air when Sachin scores a century. Doesn't the idea feel good? It kinda grows on you, like the warmth inside a blanket . . .

*I have no clue which period Kalidasa belonged to. Not something we have been encouraged to learn in our English schools.